American Jewry must overcome divisions on display at AIPAC conference

It’s no secret that different factions of the American Jewish community have conflicting ideas about how best to support Israel. The bitter clash this summer over the Iran nuclear deal only deepened already fissuring fault lines. It was therefore a welcomed development when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) chose the theme “Come Together,” an invitation of bipartisanship, for its annual conference.

Unfortunately, the best intentions were not enough to unite delegates. It was not a mistake to invite Republican frontrunner Donald Trump to speak. After all, every presidential candidate still in the race was asked. And only Bernie Sanders turned down the offer, choosing instead to continue campaigning out West where the Independent from Vermont delivered remarks about Israel.

AIPAC organizers tried; they gave repeated warnings to activist not to disrupt Trump and to treat all candidates with respect. As it turned out, anti-Trump activists weren’t a problem. Most were not even in the room when he spoke as a contingent of rabbis chose to walk out in protest. In truth, Trump’s prepared speech, read by teleprompter, was tame by his standards, providing details of his Israel support and a critical assessment of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies. It’s when he went off script, remarking that Obama was “the worst thing that ever happened to Israel” that the dam broke. Receiving the loudest ovation of the night, Trump joined the crowd in cheering the fact that the sitting president was in his final year in office.

The crowd reaction prompted an unprecedented apology from Lillian Pinkus, AIPAC’s newly installed president. “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone,” she said.

So where do we go from here? It is critical that Democrats and Republicans find common ground. No matter who wins the election, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to work together to keep Israel strong. This goal unites us, even if we’re having a hard time reaching it.

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